Question: Does it matter what we call the latest outbreak of violence in Jerulam and the West Bank? Answer: Yes.
The Israeli, Palestinian, and international media have been asking if this is the long anticipated ‘Third Intifada’. Some commentary pours scorn on the question, arguing it is irrelevant what the violence is called. This ignores what it would mean if a full blown, organized, uprising is again about to fall on the people of both sides.
19 year old Muhannad Halabi did his best to plunge his people into another disastrous insurrection: before setting out to stab a Jewish family in Jerusalem’s Old City he wrote on his Facebook page “The third intifada is here,”
However, despite the wave of stabbings, shootings, and rioting, there are not yet concrete signs that this is an intifada in the manner of those of the late 80s/early 90s, and from 2000 to 2005.
In those years, especially from 2000 to 2005, the Palestinian security forces joined in the violence and most Palestinian factions supported the uprising. Neither of those moves can yet be factored into the current situation. Nor, despite the tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire from the Israeli side have the IDF gloves come off.
The level of violence is terrible, but could be so much worse, especially if the Palestinian forces not only withdraw security co-operation with Israel, but actually join the attacks on Israelis.
Given the sporadic nature of violence in Israel/Palestine it’s difficult to put a start date on the recent uptick, but since clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque on Sept 13 the situation has become steadily worse –
Sept 17 – Further clashes at al-Aqsa and surrounding streets.
Sept 26 – IDF attacked AFP journalists and smashed their equipment in West Bank.
Oct 1 – 2 Israeli settlers shot dead in front of their children in West Bank. A ‘heroic operation’ says Hamas.
Oct 2 – Settlers attacked Palestinian homes near Nablus in revenge. IDF declared the south of Nablus a closed military area. More clashes at al-Aqsa.
Oct 3 – 2 people killed, 3 wounded in terrorist attack in the Old City .
Oct 4 – 19 year old Palestinian shot dead after allegedly stabbing an Israeli.
Oct 5 – Islamic Jihad threatened suicide attacks. 13-year-old Palestinian shot dead in Bethlehem.
7 Oct – Israeli man stabbed in the back by Palestinian women in Old City who is then shot.
President Abbas says that his security forces are not involved in any of this, and so far there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. However, given the level of anger in Palestine, and the risk of Hamas taking advantage of this, the deeply unpopular Abbas is under pressure to take a hard line. A recent Palestinian opinion poll suggested that 57% of people support an armed uprising in the absence of peace negotiations.
However, Palestinian society knows it gained nothing from the last intifada, and lost a lot, especially in terms of lives.
Declaring an intifada would mean a massive scaling up of the death toll – the ‘rules’ of the game would change. All cooperation between Israel and Palestine would cease. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups would attempt to infiltrate Israel to carry out massacres, and the Hamas leadership in Gaza would be tempted to carry out a show of force in support of the West Bank Palestinians. In turn the Israelis would flood the West Bank with more troops, and respond with air strikes to any provocations from Gaza.
An official intifada would also mean that both sides would know they were in for the long haul – months, possibly years, of high level violence.
At the end of it the likely outcome would be many deaths, particularly on the Palestinian side. A Palestinian state would probably not emerge. A possible outcome would be the end of the Palestinian Authority. In that event an even more radical Palestinian leadership would probably take its place amid a Palestinian civil war.
It is not yet an intifada. Pray it will not become one.